Taming The Troll
This past week has been filled with many heated discussions surrounding some pretty heavy subjects. There is no denying that engaging in conversation around the subjects of suicide, suicidal thoughts, and sexual harassment is important, but it can also be exhausting.
I began this week full of fight and anger at the situation, positive that I, along with all the other voices, could help to affect change. After almost an entire week of screaming into the void, I feel dejected, discouraged, and like no amount of talking or educating is going to help because people don’t listen.
The problem that we are trying to solve is so huge it is overwhelming, and the only reasonable way forward seems to hinge on trying to get individuals to assess and adjust their own behaviour but that seems an almost impossible task.
I am always hesitant to jump into conversations in comments sections on social media. Much like in real life, I don’t like to interrupt, I don’t want to intervene in a conversation that I am not apart of. Every now and then though, I get baited. When a situation is so important that the consequences of silence can be deadly, I will not keep my mouth shut. I strongly believe - and hold myself accountable to – staying silent, makes you complicit.
If good people don’t call out the bad people’s behaviour, we are just the same. However, you cannot fight the good fight relentlessly. That is not to say that you are free to jump in and out of your morals as you please, I mean that you do not have to fight all the time. It is okay, and necessary, to rest and reset.
Comments section arguments are entirely different from holding a heated discussion with a friend, in person or even over the phone. In those instances, we can walk away, we can hang up, the conversation may naturally end, or we can communicate our need to change the subject if things veer off track.
We also have the added benefit of it being a private conversation, there are no spectators, so there is no one to ‘win’ in front of. When we engage in a discussion online it is public, and more often than not, both sides are bolstered by others jumping in or simply through reactions to their comments or likes.
This creates a dangerous and unhelpful competition element to what could otherwise be a fruitful conversation. Where one party could have changed their mind, now there is an expectation for heels to be dug in and ground to be stood, the conversation is instantly stunted and may as well end there if not for both sides wanting the last word.
When we are trying to convince people to change their minds on a subject that is important to us, it is so important to make sure that we stay on topic. It can be extremely easy, especially when talking to a suspected troll, to be sucked into an insult competition. Please believe me when I say, it’s not worth it.
Once you engage in mudslinging, you drop to their level. I know that this sounds easier said than done, and it certainly is, especially if you are already riled up. The beauty of online interactions though is you have the luxury of time. Read a response, process it, breathe, think about your reply (or simply don’t reply).
I know that this may sound like an impossible feat, especially if you are riled up and desperately want things to change but hear me out. Yesterday I received an angry message from someone on Instagram in response to a post I had made about the Piers Morgan debacle.
I took my time responding to this person, taking deep breaths to dissipate my initial frustration at their ignorant message, I then thought out my reply before I sent it. This conversation started with someone making racist comments, rudely dismissing serious mental health concerns, and wishing violence on certain individuals.
It ended with an honest discussion about how far mental health attitudes have come and how much further they had to go. This person had struggled with their own serious mental health issues and was grateful that I didn’t bite, that instead, I chose to exercise compassion. What I am saying is, if you have the energy to, always try to respond with kindness, patience, and understanding. If you don’t have the energy for that, don’t engage.
You don’t need to worsen your day by arguing with a brick wall, it won’t benefit you or the cause you want to further. These things take time, and while it can be so easy to fall into the trap of online arguments when things are fresh and emotional, it is ok to take a break from screaming into the void of the internet. Protect your mental health so you can continue to help others for longer.